Storing Sharing and Registering

Ideally, you should make your wishes for your future health care widely known. Give a copy of your health care documents to your agent, if you named one, and store the originals in a safe place where loved ones will be able to find them in an emergency. You may also wish to distribute additional copies or put your health care wishes on record with a state registry.

Making and Distributing Copies

At a minimum, give a copy to the doctors or medical facility most likely to be treating you. Also consider giving copies to:

  • any physician with whom you now consult regularly
  • the office of the hospital or other care facility in which you are likely to receive treatment
  • the patient representative of your HMO or insurance plan
  • immediate family members—spouse, children, siblings—and
  • trusted friends.

Some people are hesitant to discuss the particulars of their medical care with other people, feeling that it is an intensely private issue. However, in the case of health care directives, you must weigh your desire for privacy against the need for the documents to be effective. Your carefully reasoned medical directive will simply be wasted words unless you make sure it gets into the hands of the people who need to know about it.

Registering Your Documents

In addition to giving copies of your health care documents to your agent, caregivers, friends and family, you might consider placing information about your documents on file in an official state registry for living wills or advance directives.

In many states, for a small fee you can record information about your document in a state­ maintained database that medical professionals can access later. In some states, you must include a copy of your completed advance directive form when you register. In others, you have the option to provide only basic details about your document, such as the name and contact information for your health care agent and the location of the form. After you register, many states provide a wallet card that you can

carry with you. You can also copy this card and give it to others, reminding them to contact the registry in the event of a medical emergency.

In practice, doctors and hospitals have been slow to adopt the registry system; many simply do not check them when a patient is admitted.

Nevertheless, if your state offers one, you may want to use it on the theory that it is not very expensive to register and it can't hurt you to do so. If medical professionals start to use registries more frequently, your registration may turn out to be helpful.

To find out whether your state has an advance directive registry, do an Internet search for the name of your state followed by "advance directive registry" or "living will registry."

Keeping Your Documents Up to Date

Review your health care documents occasionally—at least every few years—to make sure they still accurately reflect your wishes for your medical care. Advances in technology and changes in health prompt many people to change their minds about the kind of health care they want.